WASHINGTON — An ex-police officer "betrayed" his sworn oath by warning a fellow Donald Trump supporter who entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to remove his Facebook content about the attack, a federal prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.
Michael Riley, a former Capitol Police officer charged last year with two counts of obstruction, warned rioter Jacob Hiles, who has since been convicted, on Jan. 7, 2021, that law enforcement was investigating people involved in the attack on the Capitol.
Riley's defense team doesn't dispute that he sent the warnings, but it argues that he didn't realize the full extent of what Hiles did during the riot and that it wasn't "reasonably foreseeable" that a federal grand jury would be interested in what Hiles had posted on social media.
According to a federal indictment, Riley wrote to Hiles on Jan. 7 saying he agreed with him on political issues and advised that he "Take down the part about being in the building" because law enforcement was "currently investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to [get] charged. Just looking out!"
After Hiles was charged in mid-January 2021, the indictment alleges, the two men spoke on the phone for 23 minutes. Afterward, Riley told Hiles he would give him a tour of the Capitol next time.
"Next time you want to come to DC just call me, you can stay at my house on the shore for free and bring your daughter to the museums. If you want to see the capitol building, lets do it legally next time... I know a guy who can get you a tour... lol," Riley wrote in a Facebook message 10 days after the Capitol attack.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Dohrmann told jurors Tuesday that "there was nothing legal or funny about what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6." Dohrmann said Riley later "came up with a cover story" to explain the timeline of his messages, which he later deleted.
"The defendant never wanted these Facebook messages to see the light of day," Dohrmann said. "He was sworn to uphold the law, and instead he obstructed it."
Defense attorney Christopher Macchiaroli told jurors that Riley "never intended to obstruct a grand jury" and that he was a 25-year veteran of the Capitol Police who had helped respond to the pipe bombs that were found near the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Riley "pursued justice, did not obstruct justice," Macchiaroli said, calling the case "complex."
Macchiaroli went on to say that on the same day Riley talked to Hiles, he said "straight up acts of terrorism" took place on Jan. 6, hours after he helped sweep the Capitol for bombs as part of his role in the K-9 unit. Riley wanted people to be held accountable for their actions, Macchiaroli said, but didn't believe based on what he knew at the time that Hiles had done anything other than document the situation.
"He was duped" by Hiles, Macchiaroli said.
"He made a mistake, he had a lapse in judgment," Macchiaroli added, arguing that Riley didn't intend to obstruct a federal grand jury.
Hiles is expected to testify. Under a plea deal with the government, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to two years of probation, along with 60 hours of community service and $500 restitution.
Opening arguments began Tuesday. Prosecutors anticipated their case could take three days, and the defense said its presentation could take three days, as well.